Pre-March Jitters

The terror of the incoming administration has raised my blog from the dead.  And, as one might guess, I’ll be participating in the Women’s March in DC this Saturday, January 21st.  

I bought the airplane tickets and reserved a hotel room back in November when I first heard of the March--feeling gratitude that there would be some action I could take.  At least we have each other and can still congregate and demonstrate our outrage--the outrage we feel in both losing our first chance at equal representation in the highest office in the country as well as in having that seat occupied instead by a sexual predator.  I (we) see red.  

So the ticket was bought and I went back to my daily life--that of a working mother with more hobbies than I need.  And then this week, as the March became imminent, my mind turned towards preparation--What will I need? What should I anticipate? I sewed ‘a pussy hat’--fun.  I began to think about appropriate attire for DC’s cold and fortification for hours outside on my feet.  Friends began sharing links and information on these topics, including a rumor that some motorcycle gangs are planning to create a ‘wall of meat’ in opposition to the March.

I began to notice that it is getting harder to fall asleep at night; my heart is beating faster during the day.  I have thoughts of the Boston Marathon bombing, the various mass shootings of recent years.  I flash back to one of my  first memories--hiding under a table while my father beat my mother.  I think of a recent experience that I had at a twelve step meeting shortly after the election--it was a ‘tag’ meeting, meaning that one person would call on the next to ‘share’ briefly.  I watched with growing agitation and anger as man after man called on their own, until finally, at the end of the meeting, one man called on a female (of note, she was dressed in stereotypical masculine attire).  And I blurted out gratefully, ’Finally a woman!’  Then this particular female, proceeded to indirectly dress me down by talking about ‘people who are full of themselves' and need to be put in their place.  It was all I could do to remain seated and exit politely at the end of the meeting.  Misogyny, (including the internalized misogyny of women), is alive and well.  

And, so last night, my ex-husband/fellow-parent texted that he was proud of me but also nervous, and I responded that I too am scared, and that I would be getting him copies of my life insurance policy, etc, before boarding the plane.  I asked if he thought I was being negligent towards our son by participating--and particularly in DC.  His response was ‘no’ and that I’m ‘setting a great example’ for our son.  And I am grateful to be living in an era when a conversation like this could occur between a divorced heterosexual couple.

But I am also aware that this fear that I am experiencing is exactly what has kept the patriarchal system in place for so long and why women are less likely to take a physical stand against the inequality we experience.  Because we have children to think of.  Because our lives could be in danger.

And so I march.
 

 

On Hiatus Until Self-Promotion Is No Longer My Motivation

Over the months since my conversation with Jamie Berger of '15 Minutes', a podcast on fame, I have been reflecting on my motivation for writing this blog.  If you listen to various episodes of Jamie's podcast, including the one in which he spoke with me, you will repeatedly encounter the concept that creating something (a piece of art/writing/music/etc) to be noticed is not ultimately as satisfying as creating something because you simply feel drawn to do so.

Sadly, though I have some actual ideas on boundaries and stigma and otherness that I'd like to share with the world, I am afraid that this blog became more motivated by a desire to be seen and thought special.  As the blog posts accumulated, I found myself creating a Facebook page and a Twitter handle so that I could promote the blog and be more seen.  Then I realized that I was spending more time checking those places for acknowledgment than actually writing. Eventually, the fears over what people would think became more than the desire to share and my motivation ebbed and the flow of ideas slowed to a trickle.  

At the same time,  my son has started kindergarten and is needing more of my attention to process all the emotions he is having in response to the new stimuli coming at him, I have started yoga teacher training, and have found myself pulled back into attending to the relationships I have with the flesh and blood people in my life (including myself).  

So, for now, I am laying this blog aside.  

If I find that I have some thoughts to share and that my motivation is relatively pure (I'm only human after all), once my son has adjusted to school and my yoga teacher training is complete (in January 2017), I'll be back.  

Until then, namaste.

 

Boundaries

Two years ago, my life took an unexpected turn when I realized that I was no longer getting my needs for connection adequately met in my marriage. I chose to separate from, and subsequently divorce, the father of my son, and begin the slow, at times overwhelming, process of re-establishing our family unit as a more modern version of its former self.

In the process of ‘conscious[ly] uncoupling’ (as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin so beautifully called it), I have been giving much thought to what I say to whom, how much I reveal of my inner experience, and what the impact on a relationship is of both holding back and revealing more--this blog being an obvious offshoot of my new boundary exploration.  In my marriage, distance had grown in some areas but not in others, so that, as we formally changed our designation from married to divorced, we had to consciously create greater distance where it had not existed--to match the distance that had grown in other areas--in order to become more like friendly work colleagues as we parented our son.  

One early ‘aha’ moment regarding the needed shift in our boundaries occurred for me when, after sharing about my new love life with my ex-husband, my ex came back to me a day or two later and said that one of his close friends didn’t think it was kind of me to share details of my romantic life with him.  And I had to admit that I agreed with his friend.  I was still trying to talk to my ex-husband about the intimate details of my life but such closeness was no longer appropriate to our new status.  He was hurt by what I had shared.  I believe this is what is referred to as “TMI”.  It’s possible that we may again be close friends who share such details in the future, but better boundaries are needed for us at this early stage of redefinition.

And, though it took a massive earthquake in my personal life to draw my attention to the subject of boundaries, now that I am giving thought to the subject, I have begun to see its importance and impact everywhere that I look.  In fact, I was triggered to sit down and try to hammer out this post, after my five year old son demanded to know what I was thinking about this morning when I was staring off into the distance.  I responded that I was having my own private thoughts and that these didn’t need to be shared (at least, not with him).  Another moment of boundary setting in my life, and in this case, an opportunity to teach my son about them as well.  

But coming back to you, my reader, I’ve been wanting to bridge the terrain between heady intellectual concepts of boundaries and the practical application of healthy boundaries in our daily lives and relationships.  Think of this post as an intro to my boundary exploration.  In posts to come, you can expect me to muse on boundaries with regards to Facebook and social media, modern family configurations, personal privacy maintenance, relationships of all types--including those between a therapist and a client or a parent and a child.  I will try to share honestly from my own mindful, imperfect, personal boundary navigation while using my current working definition of healthy boundaries—

the amount of psychological distance required between a person (or group of people) and another person (or group of people), created both verbally and physically, such that they can make enough of a connection to meet their mutual goals while maximally maintaining their individual safety.

There’s so much more to say on this subject, and I’m obviously not the only one talking about boundaries in our society right now--or in the past century or longer. Boundaries can be defined in countless different ways.  I currently have two books going on the topic,  a psychoanalytic text, Boundaries and Boundary Violations (Gabbard & Lester, 1995), and another differently abstract consideration, Maya Lin’s thought-provoking Boundaries (2000).  

Our current major political conflicts in this country can be easily seen as boundary considerations—immigration, abortion, bathrooms, guns.  Who has a right to make decisions about the boundary crossings of our own bodies, of our bathroom walls, of our country’s borders? And how do we translate our varying perspectives across the walls that differentiate our values?

But I’m going to leave you now to consider what the concept of 'boundaries' means to you.  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section and would be thrilled if this turned into a conversation (rather than another, also satisfying, one-sided diatribe). 

[If you’d like fodder for your thoughts and can’t think of situations in your own personal life where there have been issues with boundaries, I would encourage you to check out Girls, Season 4, Episode 8, in which Hannah (Lena Dunham's character) and her boss (the school principal to Hannah as teacher) discuss Hannah's seeming lack of boundaries in a most hilarious, while accurate, use of the term.  In short, Hannah befriended one of her students then ditched school with said student to get their frenulums pierced together (which Hannah then declined to do after watching the student writhe in pain like a fish on a hook).  The principal was alerted and Hannah was asked to come speak with him about crossing the boundary between teacher and student.  Hannah proceeded to make the principal squirm by explaining that her judgment was compromised by the emotional turmoil she was experiencing--as her father had just recently come out to her and her mother (as gay) after 30+ years of marriage.  Boundary crossings abound—between Hannah and her student, between Hannah and the principal, and, some might say, between Hannah and her father.]

Dear Mr. Trump, Regarding Oakland. . .

During this Monday morning’s Lake Merritt* run, I had a moment to contemplate the weight of Donald Trump’s recent hilariously tragic statement--that Oakland is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.  To be fair to Mr. Trump, the question posed was that he select the most dangerous place(s) from among the geographical locales to which has actually been; so maybe his comment is more telling about the extent of his travel than about his perception or knowledge of danger in the world. 

My initial response to the Oakland comment was to ridicule the privileged bumbler, ‘Yea, dangerous for you, Mr. Trump, if by ‘dangerous’ you mean people on the sidewalk would point and snicker at you from behind their hands. . . .’  It is also tempting to point out the obvious lack of terrorist attacks and full-on warfare in Oakland, California, or the plethora of hip restaurants, cool clubs, and the amazing weather to be found. . . . But then I remembered what my much-beloved uncle, Ben Hubbard, a religious studies professor and author, is trying to say in his new book, A Battlefield of Values:  America’s Left, Right, and Endangered Center, and my pledge to myself after reading it, to work towards engaging in more civil (respectful) discourse when I disagree with someone who holds different values from my own (like my mother). . . .

So, Mr. Trump, why?  Why did you experience Oakland as dangerous?  Is it just the high homicide rate?  Because, sure, that’s a fact.  And, undoubtedly,  the high incidence of killings, primarily shootings, reflects the higher than usual percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged Americans able to afford to live here.  But though there is a cost for diversity, there is an even bigger payoff, and the diversity of Oakland is exactly what makes it such an amazing place to live or visit.

I thought about this as I rounded the northeast tip of the lake and saw a middle-aged white woman perusing the few, expensive wares of a likely-homeless, disheveled, half-sleeping, also middle-aged black man.  There seemed to be a few expensive, perhaps designer, handbags and shoes laid out on his blanket.  And I thought, ‘Well, these items are obviously stolen.’ Yea, that was my initial thought.  Sit with that.  Because, I too, am racist, like every other person white or black or brown in our country.  Like you.  

And my first thought might still be correct, the items might be stolen.  But I enjoy calling myself on my automatic, socially-programmed prejudices and assumptions, and, so, my follow-up thoughts were, ‘Should I talk to this seemingly homeless thief?  Should I be a good citizen and call the cops?’  Hell, no.  Because that man might have found those shoes and handbags and simply been a savvy business man.  Or who knows how he came to be lying next to a blanket of high-priced goods.  Maybe they weren't his.  I certainly don’t know the whole story.  Making assumptions rarely works out well.   The cops might have been able to figure it out but probably not, or they might have created a scene.  Certainly, it would have disturbed all the happy Oaklandites getting their morning exercise--myself included.  

And, honestly, I didn’t even really know that I cared if those items were stolen. Yea, that’s right too.  I guess that makes me a ‘bleeding heart liberal’. . . or lazy.  But I want social justice. . .  and change in America.  I want that man to have money to live on.  If he’s disabled or mentally ill or drug-addicted or simply doesn’t have the white leg-up that I have, I want our country to figure out how to take better care of him and all suffering like him.  If this is how he has to get his money in our current system, then I think the system needs to take a look at itself.     

And, I thought about who it might have been stolen from, if stolen it was; someone privileged, someone able to buy shoes that cost a few, or several, hundred dollars.  Someone like you, Mr. Trump. 

So I kept walking.  Past the multi-colored women pushing multi-colored babies, past the multi-colored, multi-aged people getting their Monday morning exercise on a gorgeous day in sunny California and, when I got home, I wrote this post.    

Mr. Trump, you are not going to get elected on the wings of white supremacists hoping to ‘take back the country’.  Take it back to what?  The 1960s, when MLK got shot?  The 1920s, when women couldn’t vote, or the 1970s when we couldn’t make our own reproductive choices?  The 1940s when we put people we didn't trust, based on their ethnicity, into internment camps?  This country is still a melting pot, and you must win us ALL over to become president.  We ALL want to to see things get better.  We all want our children to be safe and educated and free to pursue happiness.  So talk to us about where we live and what we are hoping for in the future--about how we imagine getting there.

[And, yes, I know our nation's issues are hard to talk about without putting your foot in your mouth.  See above, I make mistakes with my language all the time; like you, Mr. Trump, I don’t even know the currently correct term to use for black Americans.  In fact, it might seem that black Americans don’t know how to refer to themselves, if the reaction to Larry Wilmore’s use of the ‘n’ word at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner is any evidence, but I digress.]  

We as a country need to be talking to each other--across divides, not just to those with whom we agree--in our ever shrinking rings of agreed upon values.  So what if we step on each others’ toes a bit?  Then back up, apologize, listen and try to communicate again, more respectfully.  It’s okay to make some mistakes as we go, that’s how we learn.  Let’s give each other some room to err as we work to find some common ground.

Come visit Oakland, Mr. Trump.  Talk to us about the homicide numbers and our values and aspirations.  And if you’re too scared to visit us, think about what that means.  The president of the United States needs to be someone who can represent all of our vast, mighty, diverse nation.  

 

*Lake Merritt is one of Oakland, CA’s many gems.  

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Another influence on my thinking this morning, that I’m still digesting as I publish this post, is the finale to Louis CK’s Horace and Pete--simply a smart, insightful, work of art and the most accurate depiction of our present socio-political climate that I have been exposed to recently.  Mr. CK does not hold back.  The series is brave and non-defensive in cataloguing American (possibly, just, human) suffering.  Click here to watch it; you’ve got to buy it online because he couldn’t find a distributor; worth every penny and then some.  

Also, heads up, Bay Area, Mr. CK is coming to us and his tickets are affordable.  


 

What Is Normal?

I’ve recently decided that the question that I hear more than any other while sitting in my therapist chair, is “Is that normal?”, typically said after telling me something that they haven’t shared with anyone else.  My answer?  “How do you imagine that I know?”  I’m pretty sure that I’m not.  But then, I realize, ‘Oh, right, they think I’m normal because I’m a shrink.’  Or they think that I at least know what normal looks like.  Perhaps, I seem to be acting normally.  I’m very good at that.  

And, to some degree, yes, I will admit that there are some things about all of us that had better be normal or we’re in for a rough time.  Like it’s not normal to be born a conjunctive (better known as a “Siamese”) twin.  Especially weird is if you’re born a Siamese twin connected at the head.  I’m pretty sure that would be the worst.  But I digress.  Ok, obvious examples of normal--having two eyes and one nose, a mouth with which to eat, a sexual drive, a drive to stay alive.  These things are normal.  Lower brain functions.  We’ve all got them.  

But, then you get into other realms of the human existence, like having a brain that generates random thoughts which it thinks are necessary for survival.  Thoughts which were developed during childhood.  Which ones of these are normal?  

Well, here’s the rub, we can’t read each other’s thoughts.  So we can only know the things in each other’s heads that are actually spoken.  Don’t assume that you know what is going on in there.  You could be wrong.  And don’t even imagine that you can always believe that the words that are spoken match the thoughts in the other person’s head. Maybe they’re too embarrassed or scared to tell you what they had been thinking.  So it gets deleted.  And what you don’t know?  You don’t know.  

Here’s a thought that I’ve had that I don’t go around trumpeting--when I was a new mother (really new with a son less than two months old), I remember walking around our small, very safe little apartment, completely sober, and thinking, Dear God, what if I accidentally bumped into the doorframe as I’m walking between rooms, moving too fast, and smashed Tru’s head and killed him? A gory visual accompanied this horrific thought.   And then I would briefly worry how it was possible that I could even have such a thought.  Luckily, many years of therapy helped me to reassure myself that there was nothing wrong with me.   I realized that I was so scared of harming him that my mind was terrorizing me so that I would tiptoe around and keep him super safe.  So, thank you, Mother Nature. . . I guess.  He has, after all, survived to five and will begin kindergarten in the fall.  Not too shabby a job at not bashing his head in. . . so far.  

So there you go.  Do you think I’m normal?  Probably.  Because we all think a lot of really weird shit.  And it doesn’t matter.  We’re animals.  All that matters it that we think before we act and that, when we do act, we act in a way that doesn’t hurt anybody else.  Thoughts aren’t actions.  And actions are what count. 


So, then, give that some thought.  What are some of your thoughts that concern you?  What’s underneath them?  Fear?  Jealousy?  Loneliness?  Normal.  Now what are you going to do with them?  And keep in mind that ‘nothing’ is an option.  

Musings On Judgment Continued: Paralysis

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[Before I venture into more heady terrain. . . .an addendum to last month's post. If you happened to read "Musings on Judgment: Part I", you may wonder what the hell I was doing ‘clothes-lining’ old women while running with a dog.  Yes, it seems that I didn’t understand that a curious, country dog should be on a short leash while running in an urban environment--especially if the human in charge is moving at a higher speed than those around them.  So, my apologies, to all the people who were giving me dirty looks that morning.  The judgment was warranted.  Next time, feel free to educate me. “Shorten the leash, Dumbass!” would have gotten my attention.  “Excuse me, Ma’am, but you might want to shorten your leash to avoid getting tied to a tree” would have worked even better.]

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And now. . . .

Perhaps I’m more neurotic than the next person simply due to my genetic wiring, but I prefer to chalk my neuroses up to the messages I encountered in my childhood that in sum amounted to “Who do you think you are?”  The messages took a variety of forms--”don’t be such a know-it-all”, “you take yourself too seriously”, “prima dona”, and simply ‘no’.  Regardless, they remain an aspect of my inner dialogue.  One that I, in my youth, attempted to silence with drunken binges and, then in my early psychotherapy forays, tried to uproot and kill off completely.  Over time, I learned that self-growth could not be achieved by self-murder of my damaged, insecure parts.  Rather compassion and holding my own hand through the hard times was in order.  Now, I simply have more awareness when my wounded parts are stirred up and am usually able to make choices about whether or not I let them impact me.  I would like to say that I am always compassionate with the internal echoes of my past, but, honestly, there are still times that I wish they would just go away.

It would seem that this blog has stirred up that insecure girl inside of me.  I’ve been watching the days go by and finding myself unable to write a next post.   Recently, a friend introduced me to another at a gathering and mentioned this blog.  I found myself saying that I hadn’t been writing because I was intimidated by the title, “The Feminist Psychiatrist.”  And that set me thinking.  Is that what’s happening?  I left the party, flattered that anyone had been reading my posts and then embarrassed by my self-deprecation.  My insecurity was showing, much like toilet paper stuck to my shoe after exiting the toilet.

As I delved deeper in the days after, I became aware of how loud my inner track had become,  ‘Well, who do you think you are anyway? ‘The Feminist Psychiatrist?’  What a narcissist.  There are other feminist psychiatrists; you simply happened to register the domain name first.  And what are you even trying to do with this blog?  Who cares what you have to say?” etc.  In addition, I had fantasies about strangers, friends and family sitting in front of their screens, reading the blog critically, searching for any error--grammatical, philosophical, ready to pounce.   Ready to deem me stupid, “full of herself”, or even ready to look for the slightest bit of unprofessionalism in order to make a report to the CA Medical Board.  I had become terrified by the vulnerability created by exposing my thoughts.  

Paranoid?  Possibly.  But I believe that my fears are not uncommon.  Maybe you can relate? And, as I tell my clients, when we encounter their fears, we’re most likely to find fulfillment if we move towards our fear, rather than away.  Our fears stand between us and the actions we’ll most regret not having taken.  

So, here’s how I worked with my inner scaredy cat, as you can see above, I changed the name of my blog to “Not the Only Feminist Psychiatrist”.   Because maybe in that fear, there was a useful concern; I don’t care to alienate my fellow feminist psychiatrists by implying in any way that I’m the only one.  

I gave a nod to my worries and attempted to give myself a little protection from these completely internal fears of judgment.  If it make me feel safer, and I begin to post my thoughts again, then it’s worth it.  Perhaps the title is not as strong.  Maybe someday I will see this move as a step away from feminism--just another example of the way that women have trouble grasping for power and being overly inclusive to their own detriment.  But, for now, it feels respectful and it’s one obstacle removed.  

As I continue to string my thoughts together for you in blog form, I am arriving at a clearer idea of what I’d like to deliver--and, that is, an opportunity to observe the inner workings of my brain, to see how I navigate my own unique inner territory and what I do with what I find in there.  Like everyone else, I can never know myself completely.  Which means you’re bound to see things about me that I didn’t intend to show.  Terrifying.  And so I move towards it.  

 

Musings on Judgment

What other people think of us--we adamantly deny that we care and yet it is often what we fear the most as far as I can tell.  It seems like it can be found lurking at the root of most of my clients’ anxieties, as well as my own.  

And we fear it for good reason--if we take it in, it creates shame, which has got to be the most uncomfortable feeling state--and, as one of the most powerful human psychological defenses, judgment is employed often. When we are surprised or frightened, it’s almost reflexive to look for who’s to blame.   ‘How dare she?’  ‘Who does he think he is?’  

Some of us have the painful experience of immediately turning the blame on ourselves, ‘I’m such a mess,’ ‘I fucked up again.’  But I would argue that the majority of us more quickly move to point a finger outside of ourselves.  We viciously defend our need to be right, to be a good person.  We deny that we might have been somehow a contributor in the situation that just unfolded between us and another.

The truth is that we all make mistakes sometimes.  We all bump into someone now and then.  We all occasionally lose focus in traffic and go out of turn at a four-way stop.  It happens.  The exercise of looking for who’s right and who’s wrong is such a waste of time.  What does it matter?  What does it gain us?  So much better to think, well that was surprising or that hurt and then ‘they didn’t mean to’, ‘I’ve been there myself’, smile at each other, nod, and move on. Another lovely encounter in this dance that we do.  

Just this morning, I took my boyfriend’s enthusiastic, long-limbed pointer along on a run around Lake Merritt in Oakland.   It’s in this dog’s nature to fetch small creatures; so, true to form, he wove back and forth across the path, sniffing at ducks, squirrels, nosing in the long grasses, putting street lights and telephone poles between us at every opportunity, pooping three times despite a promise by his owner that he had already done his morning business and so I didn’t need to bring plastic bags.  It gave me the opportunity to encounter loads of others’ judgments as we crossed many paths.  There were smiles and knowing looks of connection as well as gasps of fear and anger.  I wondered about the many different people and their experiences with dogs.  An African American woman recoiled and I wondered about the epigenetic transmission of slavery trauma and if her people a few generations back would have been hunted by dogs should they have tried to escape their situation.  I wondered whether an elderly Chinese woman who snorted in disgust had ever had a pet as a child and what had become of it.  So many stories encountered in so many reactions to one big dog.  And this is what we all encounter all the time.  All of our stories projected onto each other as we try to navigate the real world.  We’re never completely sure what is actually happening.  All we know is what we imagine in any given moment.